Windless February days along the Mediterranean coast, bring a golden dusting of pollen that rains down from the pine trees. On breezy days it billows about in great khaki coloured clouds. When the wind is up, it flies, thickly, horizontally, until it rams into the crevices in vertical surfaces. Nothing and no one is spared. It even finds it’s way into sealed containers. No part of a motorhome, camper van, awning, car, motorcycle, canoe, bicycle, or body, is spared. The dust is released so consistently, that the moment it is cleaned away, more lands. Gleaming surfaces recede into distant memory. A romantic dream of halcyon times, when the world and those who people it, were not a dusty and jaundiced yellow.
The old trope that no part of a pine tree is poisonous is no consolation for a small minority, for whom this is a tissue issue. It is boom time for the local pharmacy, as sales of antihistamines rocket. Misery ensues. Inhalers whizz.
Pollen on a puddle of water.
After a few weeks, the pollen stops falling and we all breath a sigh of relief, apart from the allergic gang who still cannot breath. By now there is a thick, puce green meets yellow, layer of pollen on every possible surface and without rain, it is whipped up into the air with every puff of wind. It is nature battling to assert itself, one pollen grain at a time, in the face of the might of millions of pounds worth of huge, shiny white, diesel guzzling, planet destroying, motorhomes hunkered here on this tiny site of 109 pitches. The final assault is the ‘attack of the maggots’. Bucket loads of small male cones, the spent remains of all that masculinity, fall, pitter-patter, onto every surface. The final fling of the campsite sentinels.
‘Maggots’ (male cones), spent of their pollen and ready to fall to the ground.
Of course this rather tatty, basic campsite could go the way of many on the Spanish Mediterranean and cut down all trees, spread tarmac, add sun screening in the form of giant, overhead, horizontal blinds and pack in almost twice the number of vehicles in neat ranks. Seasoned travellers call this type of campsite a ‘car park’, because that is how they look and feel.
In fact, our site cannot chop down it’s pines as they are protected by law. The pine here, the Stone Pine to the British, Pino Pinonero to the Spanish and Pinus pinea to the overly interested, has to stay put, or else. They are a very tall, hard wooded, but light-weight, useful tree and can totter on for about three hundred years. With their parasol shaped tops and long, shingled trunks, they are a prehistoric beauty. The site owners could quite easily get rid of them, storm by storm, tree by tree, until there was nothing left. No one would be any the wiser. Thankfully the owners love the trees as much as the regulars here: despite the pollen and the ‘worms’.
Ancient species are always food for something. The Western Conifer Seed Beetle (Leptoglossus occidentalis) an American immigrant, is a sap feeder and deprives the baby cones of nutrient, which makes them drop off. The other pest is our old chum, the Processionary Pine Moth; more about his little house of horror here.
These are the trees that give us the uber trendy, uber expensive pine nut. It has been a food source for us for about 6000 years. Around the time that some of the local, neolithic cave art was created. These inventive people were collecting the cones from high up in these trees for the little seeds inside. A very long pole with a hook in the end and, I imagine, good eyesight are the tools of the trade.
The cones are gathered whilst still immature, at about three years old, they are large, tightly closed and often still green. They are stored until they open up and release the hard shelled seed. The shells are broken open to reveal the fat and protein packed nugget within. A valuable resource to early peoples and us to us modern sophisticates alike. Some things never change.